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Lay Back, Lay Back

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“Lay back, lay back, go to sleep, my man,
Wipe the blood from your face and your hands,
Forgive yourself if you think you can,
Go to sleep, go to sleep, my man.”

- “Go to Sleep” by The Avett Brothers


It took Bucky three months, two weeks, and five days after the helicarrier to find the courage to walk up to Steve’s front door. 

Two hours later, he was still staring at the scratched green paint, still had his hand hanging at his side, metal one stuffed firmly in his pocket.  They were both shaking a little.  He lifted his hand, curled into a fist to knock, lowered it again, and wanted nothing more than to turn and run away again, to vanish into suburbia and not look back.

Except he would always look back, go back, so long as that’s where Steve was.  Bucky didn’t remember much, but he knew that was true.  He had moments, fragments.  More impressions and thoughts, a few snips of conversations, a smile, the way the light caught something.  But it was enough, enough that he had started thinking of himself as Bucky Barnes instead of…instead of what he was before.

Bucky raised his hand again, knuckles white and fingernails digging into his palms.  He dropped it back to his side again.  Enough.  Enough.  He took a deep breath, a shallower one, and finally a second deep breath, and knocked.

His knuckles barely rapped once on the door before it was yanked open with enough force that it ricocheted off of the wall.  Steve, wild eyed and hair standing up in all directions, stared at him like if he blinked Bucky would disappear entirely.  “Bucky,” he said.  Bucky took a step back without thinking about it.  Steve reached out, stopped, took a deep breath, and visibly tried to collect himself.  “Sorry,” Steve said.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to – please don’t leave.”

Bucky looked down at the muddy tops of his boots and thought about the two hours he had been standing on Steve’s doorstep, thought about how quickly Steve had just answered the door.  Steve had known he was there.  Steve had been waiting just on the other side for Bucky to reach out and knock, to approach, to make the first move.  Bucky balled his hands into fists in his pockets.

“I think you used to be smaller,” Bucky said.  It was not what he meant to start with.   Obviously Steve Rogers used to be smaller.  There were billboards, bus stops, comic books, magazine articles, history textbooks, a whole museum exhibit – they all attested to the fact that Steve Rogers used to be smaller.  But that wasn’t what he meant.  He meant.  He meant – he didn’t know what he meant.  But Steve used to be smaller.

“Yeah, I did,” said Steve.  He said it like maybe he knew what Bucky meant, even if Bucky didn’t himself.  Steve repeated, “I did.”

“What happened?” Bucky asked, still staring at his boots.  This was better.  This wasn’t printed in neat text on a glass wall for tourists to read.  This was theirs, was Steve’s, was his.  “D’you join the army or something?”

Steve’s laugh was more of a small explosion out of him, closer to a sob, and said, “Yeah.  Or something.”

Bucky looked up, finally.  Steve looked about five seconds away from crying, but he was smiling big enough that Bucky’s cheeks ached just looking at him.  His whole head hurt to look at Steve, the ache spilling down his spine to fill his bones and nerves.  But it was – it wasn’t a bad ache.  It was like a bone having been set, a scab on his skin, the quiet pain of old wounds that were starting to knit together again.

“Do you want to come in?” Steve asked, stepping to the side.  He pushed at the door like it was possible to open it even wider, like he would tear it straight off of the hinges and throw it out the window if it would make it easier for Bucky to walk in.

Bucky nodded, and stepped over the threshold.  There were three windows, but only two of them were viable escape routes.  There was a door leading back into a kitchen, and a hallway leading out of view, potentially more exit points.  With a single glance, he could see at least seven different ways someone could ambush Steve. 

Steve, who was hovering by the door, handle in hand, looking torn.  “I’m going to close the door,” he said.  “Is – are you okay with that?”

It’s another exit shut, but Bucky nodded anyway.

“I have food,” said Steve then.  He waited until Bucky moved further in, and then followed, always keeping at least three feet between them.  Bucky didn’t know if he appreciated it or not.  Shoving his fists further into his pockets, he hunched his shoulder and stared down at Steve’s rug covered hardwood floors.  “Are you hungry?”

Bucky shrugged.  He hadn’t thought much beyond what he would do after knocking on Steve’s door.  There was a large part of him who’d just assumed he wouldn’t be let in.  Now, here he was, in Steve’s living room while Steve drifted towards the kitchen.  He had tracked dirt in behind him.  He hunched a little further.

“I have a ton of leftover pizza,” said Steve.  “Do you like pizza?”

“I don’t know,” said Bucky.  He braced for a blow that never came.  Not knowing wasn’t an option.  When Steve didn’t say anything, Bucky glanced up.  Steve was watching him from the kitchen door, and he looked like someone had just punched him in the stomach.  “Sorry,” he added.

“No, don’t do that,” said Steve.  “Don’t –you never have to apologize to me, not for anything.  Ever.”

“Sorry,” Bucky muttered again.

Steve still had that gut-punched look.  “Pizza,” he said.  “Let’s just – let’s eat some pizza.”


It was nearly midnight.  Bucky was showered and in some of Steve’s pajamas, huddled in one of Steve’s sweatshirts.  His own clothing was hanging up, air drying after they’d washed them all.  Some of it was beyond saving, but Steve still let him hang it up with the rest.  It turned out that Bucky quite liked pizza, and Steve’s guest bedroom.  But he’d felt wrong, on edge, as he lay on the soft mattress under the blue comforter, and finally Bucky got up and pulled the knife he had put under his pillow.  He crept through Steve’s apartment, checking for any signs of trouble, of Hydra, of anything that could mean danger for Steve.

Then, finding nothing, he pulled a stool next to the window and perched there, knife held in a deceptively relaxed hand.  Steve, about an hour ago, and woken up and started watching Bucky.  He did that, it turned out.  Watched Bucky with terror and joy battling on his face – it really only succeeded in making him look like he was going to cry or something.

“What are you doing out here?” Steve asked, finally, coming out by him.  “Can’t sleep?”

Hydra would come – it wasn’t a thought, a feeling, it just was – and when they did they would be coming for Bucky and for Steve.  Only one of those was acceptable.  He didn’t think that Steve would like that very much, though, so he said nothing, and let Steve pull whatever answer he preferred out of his silence.

“That’s okay.  I can’t either.  I don’t think I’ve really slept through the night since they woke me up from the ice,” said Steve, settling down on the floor, leaning back against the wall.  “Anything interesting out there?”

Bucky jerked his head, a quiet no.  But just because he couldn’t see anything didn’t mean that it wasn’t there.  That it wasn’t coming.

“Well,” said Steve, shifting and stretching his legs out in front of him.  “Let me know if anything shows up.”

Neither of them said anything again for hours.  Bucky kept watch out the window, and Steve leaned against the wall.  Eventually, the night lightened to grey as morning came.  It was only as sunlight started to stretch across the windowsill that Steve broke the silence.

“Hey, Bucky?” Steve said.  His eyes were closed, and Bucky was fairly sure he had been dozing off and on in the night.  It made something settle in Bucky’s stomach, something that he hadn’t even realized was jittering.   Steve felt safe enough to sleep in front of him.  Now, Bucky looked down at him.  Steve was smiling up at him again.  “I’m really happy you came here.  And,” Steve hesitated.  “And you can stay, too.  If that’s what you want.”

“If I want,” Bucky repeated, the words startled out of him.

“Yeah,” said Steve.  He looked nervous.  Bucky thought he’d seen that look before, but on a much skinnier face atop a smaller body.  He couldn’t draw a specific instance, though – then, there it was, dragging Steve along in the crook of his arm, waving at a couple of girls at the end of the street.  Steve, though, was still talking, pushing his hair off to the side.  “I’d like you to stay, obviously.  I have that extra room.  You could have it.  It’d be yours, you could do whatever you wanted to it.  I wouldn’t even go in, not unless you said it was okay first.  It’d be all yours.  This could be your home, too.  What do you think?  Do you think you’d like that?”

Bucky looked out the window again.  What did he think?  That was a new question.  He’d started getting a handle on the fact he had opinions.  He liked the color yellow and didn’t like car horns.  He liked the way the light was bouncing off of Steve’s shield from where it was leaning against the couch, and didn’t like the way that worry pulled the corner of Steve’s mouth down.  But this, someone wanting to know his opinion, genuinely interested in the answer, was something new.  Someone wanting him around – that was new, too.

“I don’t know,” he said, resting his forehead against the glass.  Then, because he didn’t think it was the answer Steve was looking for, added, “Sorry.”

“Like I said before, you don’t have to apologize for anything,” Steve said.  “It’s okay you don’t know.  It’s okay.  You don’t have to answer now.  Take as much time as you need.”

Bucky didn’t move.  He didn’t actually know if he could.  He wondered if Steve realized what he was doing, laying all these choices at Bucky’s feet, offering him a home and so many things that Bucky couldn’t even remember.

“I’m just,” said Steve, and leaned against the wall, closing his eyes again.  “I’m so glad you’re here, Buck.  No matter how long you decide it’s for.”


It wasn’t the first night that Bucky stayed awake.  He would sleep for an hour, two if he was lucky, and wake locked in place from a nightmare he couldn’t remember, a wordless fear heavy on his tongue, and every instinct screaming out to protect Steve.  At all costs, he had to protect Steve.

After about a week, Steve looked as strung out and run down as Bucky was feeling.  It was after about that amount of time that Steve’s friends started dropping by.  First was Sam – Bucky remembered him, and for a long while he couldn’t place his face.  Half way through a movie, Bucky sat up straight and said, “You had the wings.”

Sam, to his credit, just smiled and said, “Yep.”

“I tore them off,” said Bucky.

“Just the one,” said Sam.  Steve, hovering in the kitchen, was doing a terrible job of pretending not to listen in.

Later, when Sam was leaving, Bucky said, “I’m sorry.  About the wings.”

“Hey, man, no hard feelings,” he said.  The strange part was, Bucky believed him.

He was only the first of a multitude.  Natasha Romanoff came next, with her red hair and sharp eyes.  There were others – Barton, Banner, Stark – and Steve told Bucky about the Avengers.  But it was Stark, who came by unannounced for dinner, who seemed to rile Steve the most.  Luckily Sam was there at the time.  When it came time for Stark to leave, Bucky was in the kitchen washing dishes while Sam and Steve talked with him.

“So, Steve, be honest,” Stark was saying.  “How are things really going?”

“Fine,” said Steve.

“Really?” asked Stark.  “Because Mr. Wilson here – which, hello, where have you been hiding him?  Do you have a secret team?  I’m starting to feel like you have a secret team – seems to think you’re running yourself ragged.”

Steve was quiet.  Then, “Bucky’s not sleeping.”

“So you’re not sleeping either?” Stark asked.  “Logical.”

“Don’t,” said Steve.  Then, like a confession, like it was his fault, “I don’t think he feels safe here.”  Something deep in Bucky’s chest twisted tight.  He felt safer with Steve than he could ever remember feeling – but Hydra was still out there.  This building was not secure.  Bucky couldn’t make it secure.  Steve kept talking, “He hasn’t slept more than an hour or two at a time and – and I don’t think he feels safe.”

“What about the forty-eighth floor of a sky scraper filled with Earth’s mightiest heroes?” Stark asked.  “I bet he’d feel safe there.  I’d bet a lot, actually.  So much money.  It would make your head spin how much.”

“Not now, Tony,” Steve said.  It sounded like they’d had the conversation before.  “I’m being serious.”

“Wait, that’s an option?” Sam asks.  “How long has that been an option?”

“Months.  A year.  Like, two years,” said Tony.  “And I’m being serious as well.  You can come too, Wilson.  The more the merrier.”

“Are you serious?” Sam asked.

“I literally just said that I was –”

“Sam,” Steve said.  “Sam, no.  Don’t.  Don’t let him suck you into his crazy.”

“What?” Stark asked.  “All I’m saying is that you and Thor are the only ones who aren’t there.  You’re missing out.  Besides, I know I sleep easier behind bullet proof glass and way above the ground.  The fact Romanoff is three floors down has something to do with it, too.  Anyone who manages to get past her deserves to murder me in my bed.  Also there is an angry Hulk monster upstairs, when the occasion calls for it, and Bruce when it doesn’t.  I’ve been sleeping better than I have for years.”

“He just got here,” said Steve.  “I don’t – we think as much routine as possible is going to be best.”

“So set up a routine in the tower,” said Stark.  Steve must have made a face, because Stark added, “Cap, look, I’m not looking for a lifetime commitment here.  Just bring him by, see how he likes it.  See how you like it.  Besides, and I don’t think you know this, but you look just as tired as he does.  We can help.”

“I’m fine,” said Steve.  Lie, Bucky thought.

“Steve,” said Sam.  “He has a point.  You’re no good to him if you’re falling apart, too.”

Steve was quiet for a long moment.  “I’ll think about it,” he finally said, and Bucky listened as he said their goodbyes and shut the door.  There was a thump.  Bucky didn’t need to look to know Steve was leaning against the front door, eyes closed, breathing and collecting himself before coming into the kitchen.

“Hey,” said Steve, grabbing a towel.  He started drying the dishes, humming along distractedly with the record as he slid them back into the cupboards.  Bucky watched him from the corner of his eye.  Stark was right.  Steve looked faded, like a picture that had sat in the sun for too long, like he was running ragged around the edges.  Bucky didn’t much like that.  He didn’t like that he was the one doing that to Steve.

“We should go see Stark’s tower,” Bucky said, and Steve startled at his voice before going still.

“You want to do that?” he asked, not questioning that Bucky was listening in on the conversation.  Bucky nodded, and Steve let out a gust of air through his nose and pushed his hand through his hair.  Then, just like Bucky knew he would, Steve smiled and said, “Yeah, Buck, whatever you want.”


A week later, they moved the last box of Steve’s things onto the forty-eighth floor of Stark’s tower.  Stark had said the entire floor was theirs, his and Steve’s, that they could do whatever they wanted with it.  Steve had tried to convince Sam to come, too – apparently they had room – but Sam had just said, “Man, you know I have a job, right?  And a house with a mortgage to pay off?  But keep that room open, okay, I’ll be up on the weekends.”  There was a kitchen up on the fiftieth, fully stocked all the time, and a gym somewhere, and labs that Bucky didn’t like to think about for too long.

Eventually, the others filtered out, leaving just Steve and Bucky.  “Well,” Steve said.  “This is it.  What do you think?”

“This room,” said Bucky, keeping to his corner.  “It’s as big as our first place.”

“I think you’re right,” said Steve, spinning in the spot and looking around.  “It might even be bigger.”

Bucky thought that he was probably supposed to say something, but he only shrugged and looked down at the carpeting. 

The next morning found Bucky sitting on the coach, an orange in his hands, knees drawn up to his chest and watching the sun rise outside the window.

“Did you sleep at all?” Steve asked, when he saw him.  Bucky didn’t answer, but he didn’t think he really needed to – Steve could find what he was looking for in the hunch of Bucky’s shoulders, in the dark circles beneath his eyes.  Sighing, Steve pushed his hand through his hair and said, “It’s probably just because it’s a new place, right?  We’re adjusting.  Give it time.”

The old Bucky might’ve pointed out that Steve was trying to convince himself more than he was trying to convince Bucky.  The Bucky he was now stayed quiet, and picked at the rind of the orange he had no intention of eating.

The next night was more of the same.  Bucky stared at the clock until he felt like the numbers had burned their way into his skull, and he wrenched it off of the table and threw it beneath the bed so that he couldn’t see it.  He lay still for another while, and tried to tell himself that this was a safe place, that there was security, and bulletproof glass, and all the things Stark had told them when they first arrived.

It didn’t work.  Bucky spent the night sitting outside of Steve’s bedroom door, a hand gun in one hand and the other loosely holding a knife.  Steve was moving around, on the other side, and when morning came and the door opened, Bucky made sure that he was in the kitchen, that his weaponry was out of sight, so that Steve would have no idea.  He also took care to return the clock back to the nightstand.  Nothing was out of place, no need for Steve to worry.

Steve shuffled into the kitchen.  He took one look at Bucky and said, “Please tell me I imagined you outside my door all night.  And no lying.”

Bucky thought about his options.  “I can only do one of those,” he said, finally.  The corner of Steve’s mouth pulled down before he set his jaw and moved behind Bucky, settling one hand on each shoulder and frog marching him towards Bucky’s bedroom.

“Alright.  Here’s the deal,” said Steve.  “You need to sleep.  If the bed’s too soft, I recommend the floor until we can figure something else out.  I don’t care what you have to do, but you gotta sleep.  Try counting back from a thousand.  That helps me.”

“I tried,” Bucky said.  When he blinked it felt like someone had coated his eyes in sand.

“Try again,” said Steve.  He walked to the door.  “Don’t worry about protecting me, Buck.  I’ll take this watch.”

Bucky stood and stared at the closed door for a long while.  Eventually, he tried crawling into the bed again.  When that didn’t work, he dragged the comforter down with him to the floor.  That was a little better.  He couldn’t even see the clock from here, not unless he craned his neck.  He shut his eyes, curled the blanket more securely around his shoulders, checked to see if at least his knife was in reach,  and started counting.

  1.   999.  998.  997.  996…

He woke up in a cold sweat, lying completely still, staring at the wall.  He couldn’t stop shaking, his jaw clenched too tight to scream, terror locking him in place – worst of all, he couldn’t remember the dream that had done it.  He squeezed his eyes shut again and pulled his knife closer in a white knuckled grip.  He could hear people talking on the other side of the door, he could hear – Steve.

He was with Steve.

He dropped the knife with a strangled gasp.  Outside, someone who wasn’t Steve – Barton, maybe – laughed at something.  Then Steve was talking again.  Bucky forced himself to take a deep breath in.  Let it out.  In.  Out.

Then, he looked at his clock.

It hadn’t even been an hour.

Steve wasn’t going to be happy about that.  His eyes would go tight and he’d frown.  He’d worry.  He’d spend time worrying about Bucky instead of taking care of himself.  Bucky stayed on the floor, but dragged the clock down so that he could see it.  He watched as the minutes ticked slowly upwards – tick, tick, tick – until they bled away into another hour.

He pushed himself up and wandered out of the room, trying to ignore the way his joints seemed to grind together, how his muscles felt like they’d been laced with cement.

When Steve saw him walk into the room, he smiled brightly and said, “You were in there a while, did you sleep?”

Bucky stretched and forced the closest thing he had to a smile on his face – it was little more than a twitch of his mouth and a slight crinkle around his eyes, but Steve lit up like a Christmas tree whenever Bucky tried it – and said, “Yeah.  I’m good as new.”

Steve stared at him just long enough that Bucky worried he was going to call him on his bluff.  Instead, Steve grinned again and said, “Glad to hear it.”

As soon as he turned away, Bucky sat down on the couch next to Barton and tried to ignore the pulsating, grinding pressure that was growing behind his eyes.


“Call me,” Steve said.  “Really, don’t hesitate.  We should be back by tonight, and Sam’s on his way up, but – you have my number?”

“Yes,” Bucky said.  It was on the fridge, held in place by a magnet with a picture of Steve’s shield on it.  He knew that because Steve had told him it was there, not because he’d gone to look – he was too tired to go, to do anything but lie on his stomach on the couch and stare at the wall.  Even just answering Steve out loud was draining him.  But if he didn’t verbally answer, Steve worried.  And Steve was on his way to a fight – the last thing he needed was to have his mind on Bucky.

He wasn’t even positive what Steve was going to go and fight – when Tony had been explaining the situation, it was all Bucky had been able to do not to fall off of his chair.  Tony was hard to follow and exhausting in peak mental condition.  Right now, Bucky couldn’t begin to keep up.  He didn’t even try.

“Just,” said Steve, from somewhere out of sight.  “Take care of yourself.”

“Isn’t that my line?” Bucky asked.

Steve laughed, and Bucky closed his eyes against the pain that the sound sent shooting through his head.  “You know what I mean,” said Steve.  “Just.  Try and get some sleep.  Sam’ll be here around ten.”

Steve was currently under the impression that Bucky had been awake for around twenty hours.  The real answer was closer to a hundred and five.  “Okay,” Bucky said, forcing the word out.  “Stay safe.”

He could hear Steve hesitate by the door.  “Are you sure –”

“Go already, would you?” Bucky said, and sat up, draping himself over the back of the sofa to glare.  “I’ll be fine.”

“Okay, okay, I’m going,” said Steve, latched his shield to his back, and walked out.  “Sleep!” he called from the elevator.

As soon as the elevator doors closed, Bucky slipped back down onto the couch and curled in on himself as tightly as he could.  Sleep.  Right.  If only it were that easy.  Any time Bucky managed to actually fall asleep, it ended abruptly and within an hour, leaving Bucky staring at the wall and locked in a the stale terror of a night mare he could no longer remember.

As promised, Sam appeared somewhere around ten – Bucky hadn’t moved, and was staring at the clock as the minutes counted up to sixty, dropped to zero, and went to sixty again.  He’d worried about having to deal with Sam and his happy, chipper self, but Sam seemed just as wiped as Steve.  “Long day,” he said to Bucky, and proceeded to tell him all about it.  Bucky nodded at all the right places, but didn’t say a thing.

When Sam left to shower, the idea dropped into his head, fell in among his spinning thoughts and froze them solid, kept them still, made it so that he couldn’t think about anything else.

Before, when he was with them, Bucky didn’t remember sleeping.  He remembered a tank, a small window, ice, then.  Then.  Then nothing.  Nothing but the dark, still waiting.  He knew time was passing, but there was nothing.  There was quiet.  There wasn’t a single thought in his mind.  There was only the ice, surrounding him – no missions, no exhaustion, no one and nothing but the ice.

There was a bin of it in the kitchen.  Bucky waited until Sam had turned in for the night to make his trek there and carry it back to the bathroom.  It took three trips, and he stumbled once and left a pile of the precious ice on the hallway carpeting, but soon enough Bucky had filled the bathtub enough that he was able to get in fully clothed and, with a bit of maneuvering, cover himself entirely.

It wasn’t like the cryotank.  The tank was fast, a flash, barely enough time for Bucky to raise his hands and press his skin against the frigid metal.  This was slow and creeping, starting with his fingers and toes and moving closer and closer to his torso.  It hurt, but then, so did the cryo – but this was a slow pain, a stiffening, and then – there, numb.  Every instinct was shrieking at him to get out of the tub, but he was so tired.  But it was cold.  His teeth were chattering, he thought he was maybe shaking.  He just.  He wanted to sleep.

An explosion of warmth in his chest, and then – then – Bucky closed his eyes, and then there was nothing but the ice.




Until, all at once, there wasn’t.

He was hot, too hot, somehow freezing at the same time, he couldn’t move – couldn’t – something was holding him down, he was – there was someone holding onto him talking low and quiet in his ear.  He tried to fight, get away, they wouldn’t have him again, they wouldn’t, he wouldn’t go back, but he couldn’t move – he was being held too tight, he couldn’t get his body to do much more than shiver, and – “Bucky, hold still,” the person said, no, Steve said.

It was Steve.

“Bucky, stop,” Steve said, but it was in his Captain voice.  “Stop, you’re going to – it’s okay, you’re okay, stop.”

“St-St-Steve,” he said, stilling, and it took a few tries to force the name out.  He couldn’t stop shaking, his teeth grinding together, and he didn’t think – he couldn’t move his left arm.  He couldn’t move it, the metal arm, it wouldn’t move, he couldn’t.  “I-I –”

“Don’t,” Steve said.  He sounded scared.  He sounded terrified.  He sounded like everything Bucky hated Steve sounding like.  “Don’t try to talk.”

“A-A-Arm –”

“Tony disabled it so you wouldn’t hurt anyone, it’s wrapped in a towel,” said Steve, and his voice cracked on almost every word, the panic thick enough that Bucky could almost smell it in the air.  “Stop talking, stop.”

Bucky nodded, closing his eyes and pressing as close as he could.  Steve was like a wildfire at his back.  He could hear Steve’s heartbeat, just next to his ear.  It was fast, rapid – it made Bucky feel awful, like he was holding a very small animal in his hands, like with one wrong move he could destroy everything.   Bucky had done that.  He wanted to apologize, but he couldn’t get his mouth to work.

“I’m sorry, Bucky,” Steve said, beating him to it.  He repeated the words like a mantra into Bucky’s hair.  Bucky wanted to ask what it was Steve was apologizing for – Steve had never done anything that needed absolution.  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Bucky didn’t know if Steve stopped talking or if he just lost consciousness.  It felt like nothing more than a blink, but when he opened his eyes again, he was lying on his back in a bed, IV needle in his good arm, and Steve was sitting at his side instead of behind him.

“Bucky,” Steve said when he saw Bucky looking at him, and broke off with a strangled, pained sort of sound.  He buried his face in his hands for a moment.  When he looked up again, his eyes were red.  “Why?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

"I’m tired,” Bucky said, and closed his eyes again.  The words made him think of the smell of incense and the inside of a confessional booth, though he didn’t have a single, specific memory of ever walking inside a church.  He thought that it would be easier to tell Steve about the people he had killed, easier to talk about the blood on his hands, than to admit to Steve about how useless he was now.  “I’m so tired, Steve.”

"Oh, Bucky," Steve said.  His voice was rough in the way that meant Steve had started crying but was trying very hard to stop.  Bucky closed his eyes, and – and –

Bucky woke up, which was the only indicator he had that he had, maybe, been asleep.  He was exhausted as ever, maybe even more, and was wrung out like a rag on a clothesline.  He stared at the painting of the sunflowers on the wall.  He let them slide in and out of focus, and pretended that he was dreaming that they were there.  It was almost like being asleep, he thought, he tried to make himself believe.  The flowers sharpened, blurred, blurred –

Natasha sat down in front of him, Sam just on her left in the second chair, which – which was not what Bucky expected.  “Where’s Steve?” he asked.  His voice sounded like someone had filled his throat with gravel.

Sam frowned, his eyebrows drawing together at the question.  He looked like someone had just yanked him from his bed and like he wasn’t completely awake and with the program yet.  Next to him, Natasha didn’t blink, and said, “Outside with the others.  He’s too emotional about this to be here right now.  We’re going to talk first.”  Her hair was yanked into a high ponytail, red curls escaping down her neck.  Both of them looked rumpled and exhausted, and Bucky understood the feeling.

“I didn’t mean to worry him,” Bucky said.

“I know,” she said.  “But you did.  And while we’re on the subject, Steve is not the only one you scared the shit out of.”

“Look, not to break up the Bolshevik Party that’s happening here or anything,” said Sam.  “But I’m not going to be much help if I can’t understand what’s going on.”

“What?” Bucky asked.

“You’ve been speaking Russian,” said Natasha, and she smiled softly.  “So I did too.  Did you not realize?”

Bucky shook his head.  “I’m not,” he said, and it was – it wasn’t English, was it, it wasn’t.  “I –”

“Take your time,” said Natasha. “If you can’t, that’s alright.  I can translate.”

Bucky looked at Sam. “Sorry,” he said, but this time he heard the word as it came out of his mouth, izvinite, and looked over Natasha’s head to the sunflowers again.  He let them blur, then forced them into focus, focus, focus, and, looking at Sam again, asked, “Better?”

“So much better,” said Sam, and the corner of his mouth quirked into a smile before it vanished again.  “We have some questions for you.  And we really do need the answers.”

“Were you trying to kill yourself?” Natasha asked, not one to beat around the bush.

Bucky shook his head.  He wondered if Steve was listening in somewhere.

“You wanna tell us what you were trying to do, then?” Sam asked.

“I just,” said Bucky.  “I just wanted to sleep.”

Natasha and Sam exchanged a look, and both leaned forward at the same time.  Bucky felt an odd urge rising in his chest, and he was pretty sure if he let the sound out it would be a high pitched manic sort of laugh.  He couldn’t remember the last time he wanted to laugh.  “And you thought that a bathtub full of ice was the way to go about that?” Sam asked.  “Someone told you that you have a bed, right?”

“Too many thoughts.  They kept moving,” Bucky said.  “And the ice made them stop.  Back.  Before.”

Natasha connected the dots immediately – he could see it on her face.  Sam took a second, and the moment he realized Bucky thought that he might actually tear up.  “Oh,” he said.  “Oh.”

“How long has it been?” Natasha asked.  “Since the last time they put you in cryo.”

“Months,” he said.  He didn’t know how long exactly.  “Too long.”

“And when is the last time you slept?” she asked.  “And I’m defining that as six or more consecutive hours.”

“1944,” said Bucky.

Natasha laughed, and Sam asked, “Okay, smartass.  Five?”

“I don’t know,” said Bucky.


“I don’t know,” repeated Bucky.

“Three?” Sam asked.  He looked like he was dreading the answer.

Bucky shook his head.  He didn’t think he had many words left in him.  He just – he wanted to sleep.  He couldn’t sleep.  He just.  He wanted.  His head was spinning, he ached, he wanted to sleep.  He wanted it to stop for a minute, he, he wanted – “Steve,” he said, and that was it.  The last word he had.  It was more choked out than said, but there it was, out in the air.

And the moment he said it, or maybe not, maybe he just lost track again, but Steve was there, hand gripping his shoulder almost painfully tight.  “I’m right here,” he said, and sat down, sliding his hand down so that he was holding onto Bucky’s wrist, gentler now, fingers pressed over Bucky’s pulse.  “What do you need?”

Bucky blinked at him.  Steve looked awful, eyes rimmed red and stubble on his face.  Bucky wanted to apologize for scaring Steve.  He wanted to explain that he really hadn’t been trying to kill himself, he just wanted to sleep so, so badly and he didn’t want to worry him.  He wanted to try and tell Steve just how tired he was, tired of not being able to remember, tired of not being able to sleep, tired of not being the man that Steve so desperately thought that he was, tired, tired, so tired of it all.  He tried to open his mouth, to force more words, but his jaw was locked, and the only thing that escaped was a frustrated groan.

Steve, though.  Steve just nodded and said, “I know, Buck.  I know.”  Anyone else, Bucky would have called bullshit.  But this was Steve, and Steve knew.  Steve always did, even before the war Bucky could barely remember, back when Steve was smaller.  Someone was saying something over by the door, and for a moment Steve’s attention slid away from Bucky before coming back.  “Hey, listen.  We’re going to sedate you so that you can get some rest.  Is that okay?”

Bucky nodded, blinked, and he didn’t realize that he was crying until Steve reached out and brushed a tear away.  Steve leaned back, and for an awful moment Bucky thought he was going to leave.  He snagged Steve’s shirt sleeve with his fingers, and Steve smiled down at him sadly.  “It’s okay, I’m not going anywhere,” he said.  “Bruce is going to put the sedative in your IV now.”

“It should work pretty fast,” said Bruce, and Bucky looked up at him.  He didn’t even remember Bruce coming into the room.  “There,” said Bruce, then.  “Give it a minute and you should be out.”

“When you wake up, we’re going to talk about this,” Steve said.

Bucky didn’t answer.  His eyes drooped shut, and he let himself be dragged down, finally, into the dark.


When Bucky woke up, he was warm, and had no idea how long he had been asleep.

Steve was still there, his head pillowed on his folded arms on Bucky’s bed.  He was still loosely holding onto Bucky’s wrist, every deep breath brushing over Bucky’s skin.  There were no windows, only the painting, and no clock on the walls.  He felt rough.  Like he’d been dragged along asphalt by a truck.  But he also felt clearer than he had – than he had since – than he ever had, maybe.

More than anything else, though, he had to use the bathroom.

Someone had already removed his IV, and so it was simply a matter of extracting his hand from Steve in order to leave the bed.  Steve grumbled, fist tightening around a bit of blanket, but did not wake.  Bucky paused for a moment, looking down.  Someone had zipped him into an overly large black hoodie, and his left arm hung, immobile and ineffective, at his side.  He was also in a pair of sweat pants that he didn’t recognize.

When Bucky stumbled out of the bathroom, he paused, and watched Steve sleeping through the doorway for a minute.  Something clattered down the hall, and Bucky startled slightly before following the sound to the kitchen.

“Morning,” said Bruce when Bucky walked through the door.  He was standing in front of the stove, cooking something in a pan.  They both looked over towards where it was dark outside the window.  Bruce shrugged and said, “Technically.  Is Steve still out?”

Bucky nodded, still hovering in the door.

“You hungry?” Bruce asked.  “You must be.  You were out for nearly fourteen hours.”

“Fourteen?” Bucky echoed.  His voice sounded as rough as he felt.  He edged into the kitchen.

“Yeah,” said Bruce.  “We have you the good drugs.  I’m making omelets.  There’s enough for another one, this one’s almost done.  It’s yours if you want it.  Come and sit.”

Bucky sat at the counter and stared down at it.  “What time is it?” he asked.

“A little after three,” said Bruce.  “We’ve been taking shifts so there was always someone here.  Someone and Steve, anyway.”

He slid the plate with the omelet in front of Bucky, and then a fork next to it.  “Thanks,” Bucky said.

Bruce nodded, and went about cracking more eggs into the pan for his own.  “How’re you feeling?” Bruce asked.  “A little off, I’d imagine.”

“Yeah,” said Bucky.  He ate a bite of food and looked up at Bruce.  “This is really good.”

“I’m glad you think so.  Can I ask you a question?” Bruce asked.  Bucky nodded, his mouth full of egg.  Not that he would have answered, anyway.  “Why didn’t you tell Steve how much trouble you were having with sleeping?”

Bucky swallowed, the question rolling around in his head.  Bruce sedately kept chopping the peppers.  “I didn’t want to worry him,” he said, finally.

Bruce paused.  “Well, you kind of dropped the ball on that one,” he said.  If it had been Stark or Natasha, really anyone else, saying that, Bucky would have bristled immediately.  But Bruce said the words softly, no malice in them, just a simple statement of fact.  He smiled, again, softly, “I think we’re well past worried.  I’ve never seen Steve scared like that, and I’ve seen him fighting alien armies.”

“I didn’t mean to,” said Bucky.

“No one is saying that you did,” said Bruce.  He picked the spatula up.  “Can I ask you another question?”

“Asking that is asking a question,” said Bucky.  “Redundant.”

“True,” said Bruce, but he still waited until Bucky nodded his consent.  “Why do you think you can’t sleep?  Nightmares?”

“Only when I actually manage to actually go out.  Not that I can ever really remember,” said Bucky.  He thought this was the longest he’d spoken to someone who wasn’t Steve.

“Not nightmares, then,” said Bruce, and flipped his omelet.  They both watched it flop back down into the pan, sizzling as it did.  “Something on your mind?”

Bucky paused, and raised an eyebrow.  “You, uh,” he said.  “You do know who I am, right?  What I’ve been doing the past seventy odd years?”

“I do,” said Bruce.  He slipped his food onto his plate and sat across from Bucky, picking up a fork.  “Pass the ketchup, would you?  I’m just wondering if there’s something you don’t want to tell Steve.  Or can’t, for whatever reason.”

Bucky swallowed thickly.  He set his fork down on the counter and smoothed his fingers over the napkin.  He suddenly wasn’t very hungry anymore.

“I’m not saying you have to tell me,” said Bruce.  “God knows I am just about the furthest thing from a psychiatrist in this tower.  But maybe try talking to someone.”

The elevator pinged, and a second later Tony came striding in.

Bruce caught Bucky’s eye.  “Not him either,” he said.  “Anyone but Tony.”

“Anyone but Tony, what?” Tony asked, and his eyes fell on Bucky.  “Oh, hey, look who’s joined the land of the living.  Want your arm reactivated?”

“Yes,” said Bucky.

“Alright, five seconds,” said Tony, pulling a screwdriver from seemingly nowhere and popping open the panel on Bucky’s arm.  “And here – we – are!” Bucky curled his hand into a fist, letting out a breath he hadn’t quite realized he was holding at the feeling of having his arm back again.  “Thank you, by the way, for not climbing in the actual ice tank,” said Tony, flicking the panel closed again and moving away.  “I really do appreciate that, Sergeant, way to be considerate.”

“Tony,” said Bruce, “Come on.”

“What, it’s a compliment,” said Tony, and clapped slowly, looking at Bucky.  “Good job on your budding empathy.  You done with that?” and he pointed at the omelet in front of him.

Bucky, after a moment of hesitating, flipped him the bird and then shoved a mouthful of egg into his mouth.  Tony barked a laugh.

“Well, aren’t we just full of surprises?” Tony said, and went to the fridge.  He emerged with a plate of leftover pizza.  “This’ll do just as well, since someone doesn’t like sharing.  How come you cook for him and not for me?  I’m hurt, really, I’m wounded.”

“Have a near death experience, then we’ll talk,” said Bruce.

“I have those literally all of the time,” said Tony.  “Mine are even preceded by complete mental breakdowns, kinda like him.”

“Yeah, well,” said Bruce, and winked at Bucky.  “Maybe I just like him better.  Talks a lot less than you.”

“Oh, low blow.  Look, you – ”

“Bucky?” Steve’s voice called out from the back hallway, an edge of panic to it as he cut off Tony’s response.  “Bucky!”

“In here, Cap,” Tony called out, raising his voice and rolling his eyes.  “Better hurry, Bruce looks like he’s about to sue you for custody of the kid.”

“I am not,” said Bruce, just as Steve appeared in the doorway, hair sticking up straight from his head.  The minute his eyes landed on Bucky, sitting at the island with his half eaten plate of food, it was like he deflated, and he leaned heavily on the doorjamb. 

“Bucky,” he said.

“Right, well, Bruce, I do believe that’s our cue to leave,” said Tony.  He took his pizza in one hand and waved with the other.  “Night, boys.  Try not to kill each other.”

Bruce rolled his eyes, and then followed Tony out.  The kitchen seemed painfully silent in their wake.

“I woke up and you were gone,” said Steve.

“Sor –” Bucky caught the word, and set his fork down.  “I mean, yeah.  Bruce made food.”

“I can see that,” said Steve, and walked over to take Bruce’s place across from Bucky.  Neither of them spoke.  Somewhere, a clock was ticking.  Tick.  Tick.  Tick.  Tick.  “You really scared me.”

“I didn’t mean to,” he said.

“Doesn’t really help in this situation,” said Steve.  He sighed, propping his chin on one hand.  “Why didn’t you say anything?  We could’ve been helping you.  I could have been helping you.”

“You can’t fix everything, Steve,” Bucky said, after a long spell of quiet.

“I know.  I know,” said Steve.  “But I can help you with this, at least.  But you have to let me.  Damn it, Bucky, you almost died.  I lost you once.  Please don’t make me go through that again.”

“Sorry,” Bucky said, barely above a whisper.  Steve didn’t tell him not to apologize, only sighed and cleared his throat.

“Right, starting tonight.  Tomorrow?  Whenever it is that the sun sets next,” said Steve, rubbing his eye with the heel of his hand.  “Bruce says he’s got some sleeping pills that might do the trick, at least for now.  How does that sound?”

“Okay,” Bucky said.

“Good,” said Steve.  “And I swear to God, Bucky.  You let this go this far again I will – I will – I’ll do something really terrible, but I’m too tired to think of anything right now.  Okay?”

Bucky nodded.  “Okay,” he said.


Two unprecedented things happened when Bucky took the pills.  First, he slept through the night.  Second, he remembered his nightmares.

He couldn’t talk for hours, he could barely even move.  Distantly, Bucky knew he was scaring Steve, but it was, for the first time he could remember, something he wasn’t concerned about.  Every time he blinked, it was like he was strapped into a chair, helmet lowering, he couldn’t get away, couldn’t, coul –

“Hey, hey, easy,” Steve said, suddenly there.  Maybe he’d been there the whole time.

Bucky looked down, and saw he’d ripped a hole in the sofa’s upholstery with his metal hand.  He slowly forced the fingers to uncurl.  “S-sorry,” he whispered.

“You with me?” Steve asked, catching his eyes.  He was squatting in front of Bucky, one hand on each of Bucky’s knees.

“Think so,” said Bucky.

“Can you tell me what’s going on in your head?” Steve asked.

Bucky shook his head. “I don’t like the pills,” he said.  It was more of a whisper.

“The pills?” Steve asked.

Bucky nodded, jerkily.  “I don’t like them,” he said, blinking rapidly.  He shook his head like he could clear the memories out.  “I don’t want to take them again.”

“But you gotta sleep, Bucky,” said Steve.  “They said that there would be an adjustment curve so maybe –”

“I couldn’t wake up, they wouldn’t let me wake up,” Bucky said.   He slammed his eyes shut like he could keep the world away a little longer.  “I don’t like the pills,” he repeated.

“Bucky –”

“Please don’t make me take them again,” said Bucky.  He opened his eyes again and stared at Steve’s hands.  It was easier to talk to Steve’s hands than to his face.  “Please.  Please don’t make me take the pills again.”

Steve’s hand tightened around Bucky’s knees.  “Okay,” he said, his voice shaking a little.  “Okay, we’ll figure something else out.  No more pills.”


The next day, after spending a sleepless night prowling around the floor, Sam stood in front of Bucky with crossed arms.  Steve was asleep on the coach, snoring loudly.

“Steve said the pills were a bust, so I thought me and you could go for a walk,” said Sam.  Bucky hunched in on himself and tried to find what he wanted to say, but Sam beat him there.  “Just up to the roof, not out into the world or anything.  Baby steps, man.  I am all about the baby steps.”

So Bucky let Sam tow him into the elevator and up to the roof which, as it turned out, had a pool.  Natasha was there already, wearing a black bikini and a pair of sunglasses that covered more than half of her face.  She was lying completely still on a lounge chair, and Bucky thought that she was asleep.  Lucky, he thought, a little mournfully.

“Man, I love this place,” Sam said, stripping off his shirt and flopping onto another chair.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses, offering them first to Bucky.  When Bucky shook his head, Sam slipped them on and laid back, flapping a hand until Bucky sat, more of a perch, really, on the edge of one of the chairs.  Sam folded his arms behind his head and said, “Did you know that exposing yourself to as much natural light as you can during the day will help you sleep at night?”

“No,” said Bucky.

“Right.  Well, it’s true.  Cross my heart,” said Sam.  “Besides, nothing better for a mood boost than sitting in the sun for a while.”

“I’ll second that,” Natasha said.  Bucky startled slightly.  She stretched like a cat, the movement rolling over her, as she sat up.  She peered over the top of her sunglasses and said, “Nothing like a sunbath to put you in the right state of mind.”

That moment, Steve walked out, yawning.  He stopped in between the chairs and the pool, directly in front of Natasha.

“Wow, you were right,” said Steve, looking at Natasha’s swimsuit.  “You look terrible in that.”

She reached down and threw a bottle of sunscreen, and it ricocheted off of Steve’s forehead.  Steve flailed and fell backwards into the pool.  From the chair, Sam lifted his sunglasses and called out, “On your left!” as Steve’s head broke the surface of the water, and then cackled.  Bucky didn’t laugh, but he did relax slightly, turning so that he was sitting fully on the chair.  He tipped his head back.  The sun beat down.

He didn’t fall asleep, but for the first time in a while he found that he didn’t mind so much.


Barton was the next to approach him.  Bucky was at the firing range, killing time around one in the morning, when he looked to his left to find he was no longer alone.

“I hear you’re a pretty good shot,” Barton said, stringing his bow and arching an eyebrow.  “I bet you’re not better than me.”

Bucky’s only reaction is to cock the gun.

An hour later, and Barton’s score is higher than Bucky’s, though not by much.  “You’re still exhausted though, right?” Barton said, and let out a low whistle.  “To be continued then.  It’s no good if you’re not actually in top form, right?”

“I guess,” said Bucky.  He turned to walk out of the room, but Barton stopped him.

“Aromatherapy,” said Barton.

“Gesundheit,” said Bucky.

Barton looked like he had just witnessed the second coming of Christ.  “Oh my god,” he said.  “Did you just make a joke?”

“Maybe,” Bucky said.

Barton laughed, head thrown back.  When he calmed down, he scratched the back of his neck.  “Seriously, though.  Armoatherapy.  You know, like smells and things,” he said.  “I’m telling you, it works like a dream.  I usually go for bergamot, but I think Nat likes lavender.  Talk to Jarvis – there’s a whole database of scents he can hook you up with.”

“Scents?” Bucky says.

“I know, I was skeptical too,” said Barton.  “Look into it, though.  You can thank me later.”


“Are you busy?” Bruce asked.  When Bucky shook his head no, Bruce jerked his head.  “If you’d like, I thought we could talk about some relaxation techniques.  Interested?”

Bucky followed Bruce to his floor of the tower – they took the stairs instead of the elevator, Bruce smiling in that soft, almost self-depreciating way and saying that he avoided small spaces whenever possible.

“Someone’s explained to you about the other guy and me, right?” Bruce asked, digging around in a cupboard and emerging with two mats.  He held.  “They’ve told you what it is that I do.  You understand what happens.”

“They told me,” said Bucky.  “But.  I don’t –”

“When I get angry, I turn into a giant, green, destructive nightmare,” said Bruce.  “I can control it, but not always.  I can’t begin to imagine what you’ve gone through,” said Bruce.  “But I do know what it’s like to be scared of the monster in your own head.  To be on guard, all the time.  It’s exhausting.”

He held out one of the mats, and Bucky took it.  When Bruce laid his down on the floor, Bucky followed suit.  “We’ll start with some breathing exercises,” said Bruce.  He settled into a cross legged position on the floor, and Bucky mirrored his position.  “Jarvis, run Meditation program four, please.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jarvis.  A moment later, the lights dimmed, and the room was filled with the sound of wind blowing through leaves, punctuated by bird song.

“Did you know,” Bruce said, voice even.  “That twenty minutes of meditation can be as restful as up to four hours of sleep?”

“I didn’t,” said Bucky.

Bruce nodded.  “The idea is that even if you can’t sleep, you can still rest,” he said, and took a deep breath.  “Now, I want you to breathe in, and fill your lungs as much as you can…”

Later, once they’d rolled the mats up and put them away, Bruce slid a mug of tea over to Bucky.  “I’d like to share something with you,” he said.  “That I’ve noticed about you.  Do you mind?”

“You always ask,” said Bucky.

“Yeah, well,” said Bruce.  “It’s always good to give people a choice, right?  But do you mind?”

Bucky shrugged, and sipped the tea.  It wasn’t bad, just different than anything else he could remember having.

“Whenever you and Steve are in the same room, you put yourself in between him and the windows.  You do the same thing with Sam and Natasha,” said Bruce.  “At first I thought you were maybe keeping an exit open, in case you needed a quick escape.  But that’s not it, I don’t think.  I think you put yourself there so that if anyone ever attacks, if there’s ever a sniper or something, you’re hit before they are.  Do you know what that tells me?”

“I’m paranoid,” said Bucky.  It was pointed out to him on a fairly regular basis.

“Everyone in this building is paranoid,” said Bruce.  “But what it tells me is that you’re a good friend and, probably, a much better person than you think you are.”

“I’m not,” said Bucky.  He stood up, and walked for the staircase, hesitating a moment.  “Thanks for the tea,” he said, and fled.


It was nearly two in the morning, and Bucky was once again killing time at the shooting range.   He had managed to sleep nearly two hours, his room smelling of vanilla, before waking locked in place and drenched in a cold sweat. 

“Sergeant Barnes,” Jarvis said, and Bucky startled enough to miss his shot entirely.  “My apologies for surprising you,” the voice said.

“That’s,” said Bucky, and rubbed the back of his neck, feeling a fool for talking to the empty air.  “That’s alright.”

“If it’s not too much of an inconvenience, Mr. Stark requests your company in his lab,” said Jarvis.  “Top floor of the tower.”

“Oh,” said Bucky.  “Thanks.”

“My pleasure,” said Jarvis.  The range was silent again.

Bucky had not actually been to Tony’s lab yet.  Or Bruce’s.  He expected – well.  He expected dark, dank.  Glowing green lights.  Cold.  Metal.  And Tony Stark’s lab was – not any of that, really, except for the metal, maybe.  It was bright, well lit, clean.  There was an entire wall of windows, and it looked more like the mechanic’s garage he used to pull shifts at in Brooklyn before the war than any sort of laboratory he had experienced.

“Perfect, just the man I need,” said Tony as Bucky stepped cautiously off the elevator.  “Jarvis said you were up and I thought if you’re awake you might as well be useful.  Come on, Comrade, I need you and that arm of yours for the betterment of the proletariat.”

“What?” Bucky asked.

“Never mind, just get over here,” said Tony.  “I need you to hold onto something for me.  It’s going to be hot – can it feel temperature?  Your arm, I mean.”

“No,” said Bucky.

“Oh, good, great,” said Tony, and stopped next to a furnace.  “I think Bruce has been borrowing tools again because I can’t find my tongs, but I already put the mold in there.  I could put my suit on but then I realized why bother if I have Robocop here to help.  Think you can pull it out?”

Bucky didn’t answer.  He peeled his hoodie off so he was only in his sleeveless undershirt and reached in, pulling out the heavy mold.  Sitting inside were several bent shapes that looked nothing more than hinges or joints.  “Where?” he asked.

“In the water, right over there,” said Tony, and Bucky did as directed, and then brought the mold to a worktable.  He looked up, and found Tony’s eyes fixed on the point where his arm joined the rest of his body.  Bucky pulled his sweatshirt back on and looked down at the table.  “One of these days I’m going to ask you to let me take a look at that arm of yours,” said Tony.  Bucky pulled his sleeve down over it, not liking the way that Tony stared so intently.  Tony, noticing, gave him an odd sort of sad smile.  “Not today,” he added.  “I’ll wait until you stop doing stuff like that.”

Bucky shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and searched desperately for a change in topic.  His eyes landed on the metal joints.  “What are these for?” Bucky asked.

“New wings for the Falcon.  Can’t have him living here if he isn’t Avengers ready.  Not that he’s living here yet, but give me time, I’ll get him.  Got Cap, didn’t I?” said Tony, and his gaze sharpened on Bucky again – on his face, this time, instead of the arm.  “You know, speaking of, same goes for you, with being Avengers ready.  I mean, one day.  Once you stop taking ice baths in the middle of the night and get a little better at being a person.”

“You don’t want me on your team,” said Bucky.

“And yet, here we are, me with an invitation,” said Tony.  “Welcome to the Avengers Initiative.  Eventually.  Some day.  Glad to have you.  Hand me that wrench over there.”

Bucky did, but he shook his head again.  “You really don’t, though.”

“Why?  Because your head is screwed to hell and back?” Tony asked.  “Hate to break it to you, Buckaroo, but you really, really don’t have a monopoly on that.  And – you know what, let’s take a walk.  Walk with me.  Let’s go.”

Tony tossed his towel down on the table and made for the elevator.  Bucky fell into step behind him.

“Jarvis, to the Kremlin, please,” said Tony.  The elevator smoothly started moving, and Tony answered the question that Bucky hadn’t asked.  “You’ll understand in a minute.  And then you can laugh with me at my sparkling wit.  Or, uh, you can do whatever it is that you do instead of laughing.”

The doors opened on an empty, dark floor.

“Lights,” said Tony, walking out.  Bucky followed, and soon the area was brightly lit in contrast with the dark outside of the windows.  Tony turned to face Bucky, and swept an arm out.  “Ta-da.”

“I don’t understand,” said Bucky, after a long moment of waiting.

“I know it’s not much, not yet, but I’ve seen you trying to get breakfast together in the morning.  Decisions aren’t easy yet, I get it, whatever,” said Tony.  “But once you’ve got yourself a little more pulled together, you can do whatever you want to it.  It’s all yours, just – I don’t know, try not to set it on fire or anything?”

“It’s mine?” Bucky asked.  He turned on the spot, and wiped a hand down his face.  “I don’t.  I don’t understand –”

“So you’ve said,” said Tony.  “Look, I got to thinking.  Maybe part of your whole not sleeping problem is that you don’t have a place that’s yours.  You’ve been living in Steve’s apartment, my tower – God only knows where you were before that.  So, yeah.  This is yours.  Do whatever you want with it.  Or don’t, that’s good too.  I mean, you do what you want.”

“You’re giving me a floor?” Bucky asked.

“Yep,” said Tony.  “All Avengers get one.  So just keep in mind.  It doesn’t matter what happens.  Even if Steve leaves, you still have a place here.  Any questions?”

Bucky turned on the spot again, looking around.  “Does Sam get a floor?” he finally asked.

“Oh yeah,” said Tony.  “Right below Barton.  They have a bird’s eye view of the city.”  When Bucky didn’t respond, Tony rolled his eyes and said, “I don’t know why I even bother, my humor is absolutely wasted on you.”


When Bucky got back to his and Steve’s floor, most of the lights were off, save for the flickering of the television.  He could see the outline of Steve sitting on the overstuffed sofa.

“What are you watching?” Bucky asked, more collapsing than sitting next to Steve.

“I’m not sure,” said Steve.  There was a group of knights skipping through a field, followed by a second group of men who were clacking coconuts together.  “I think it’s about King Arthur but – then again, maybe not.”

Bucky hummed, sinking lower into the couch and blinking heavily.

“You look tired,” said Steve.

“I am,” said Bucky.  “But I still don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep.”

“That’s okay,” Steve said.  “Just relax and watch the movie with me, then.”

They were both quiet, watching the television.  Then, “Stark gave me a floor,” said Bucky. 

“Yeah,” said Steve.  “He does things like that.”

“Said he thought maybe I couldn’t sleep because I didn’t have a place that was just mine,” said Bucky.

“Is that part of it?” Steve asked.  Bucky could practically hear the guilt settling over his shoulders.

“Nah,” Bucky said.  He didn’t need to look at Steve to see the relief on his face at his answer.  “I mean, maybe.  But I don’t think so.  Not really.  Still, though.  He gave me a floor.  In a skyscraper.”

Steve laughed.  “Is it bad if I say that you get used to that?”

“Can’t say that I’d mind,” said Bucky.  They were both quiet for a long time.  On the television, the knights met with a sorcerer who declared himself as Tim.   “Barton shot things with me.”

“At the range?” Steve asked.  Bucky hummed, and Steve laughed again.  “Oh, good, I was worried for a minute.”

Bucky frowned.  “And Sam and Natasha keep making me sit in the sun,” he said.  “And Bruce tried to teach me how to meditate.”

“You’re saying that like it’s a bad thing,” said Steve.  Bucky didn’t answer, and Steve added, “They’re trying to help.  You know that, right?  They like you, and – and I’m not the only one you scared.  With the ice.”

Bucky’s response was swallowed in a yawn.

“Here,” said Steve.  He grabbed the pillow that was sandwiched between himself and the sofa arm and plopped it in his lap.  “Lay down.  My mom used to do this for me when I couldn’t sleep.”

Bucky gave Steve a long look, and Steve’s only answer was to plump the pillow slightly.  Bucky rolled his eyes, and did as Steve asked.  “Okay,” said Steve.  “I’m going to touch your head now.  Is that okay?”

Bucky nodded, and slowly, Steve started pushing his fingertips across Bucky’s head, starting at his forehead and moving back through his hair before repeating the motion.  On the television, the knights were fighting off a white rabbit and shrieking to run away.

“M’not gonna sleep,” said Bucky.  His eyes slipped shut.

“Sure,” said Steve.  “Sure you’re not.”

It was the last thing Bucky remembered for quite a long while.